There are many island-hopping tour operators in El Nido. They all seem to offer the same tours: A, B, C and sometimes D. There are two price ranges which differ Php 100 per person per tour. But there are other unmentioned differences. Here is a brief list:
-THE FOOD: Most tours come with food included but some give you a Php 100 discount if you don't want it. Generally the meal consists of grilled fish, salad, rice and bananas. Some tours also have pork and chicken in the menu but just before leaving they can say "ah, sorry we have only fish today". In some cheaper places you can pay Php 50 pp to add these on the menu.
-TOUR PROGRAM: Although it is written down somewhere it is good to talk to the boatman or the tour operator before the tour and make sure you will go to all those places. If not you may get answers like "oh, now there is a resort there, it's private", or "it's high tide now" (of course they very well know when is the tide and when you'll be there).
-SNORKELING STUFF: Your snorkeling experienced can be ruined by a leaking mask or snorkel (pipe). Just know that since you are paying extra for these (100 each) you don't have to get them from the place you take the tour. And check the mask by pressing it on your face without the strap and inhaling a little. It has to be finely vacuumed on your face. Check the pipe by covering the end and breathing in to see if any air is coming in. Some tour organizers have discount if you rent their equipment with the tour.
-THE BOAT: Depending on the size of the group, there are small boats and big boats. Small boats have their seats facing forward while big boats have them facing center (watching each other). Bigger boats cannot come very close to the beaches while small boats sometimes almost land on the beach. The size of tarp which will protect you from the sun and possible rain does not depend on the size of boat.
-RESERVATION: Although you'll be asked to confirm your tour one day before you don't have to do this, in case it rains in the morning or you change your mind. You can walk along the beach in the evening and ask if there are already any confirmed tours (which means there are already some people who confirmed and possibly paid) and join them in the morning if you like. In fact you can even do this in the morning.
-AWARENESS: If you know anything about corals you may be shocked by the senseless destruction the tour boats do to the corals. They break so many corals, it's hard to imagine there'll be any more left after 10 years. Most are already dead and the rest is disappearing. So please do not touch any corals or break them and tell the people on your boat to do the same (read entry under Dangers & Annoyances).
The pandan tree throws a beautiful fruit that’s not really sweet, but its leaves have long been used as weaving material for mats and children’s toys like the ones you see here. During an intense squall, our boatmen entertained our island hopping tour participants by showing us how to put together these attractive toys in just a few minutes
Snorkeling in El Nido is mediocre. It may have been a function of recent rains, but the visibility is cloudy and there’s not a lot of variety. The corals also appear to be a bit damaged. However, there are quite a number of fish and if it’s your only chance, it’s worth spending a little time doing this.
Island hopping involves taking a Bangka boat from El Nido’s main beach to any one of dozens of little beauty spots in the Bacuit Archipelago. Be sure you get a boat that seems well-maintained and well-run. The one I chartered through El Nido Art café was just fine, though you could probably shave 50 pesos by shopping around.
Activities you can count on include some cave exploration, swimming & snorkeling and perhaps some sea kayaking. I wouldn’t particularly recommend this last, because my own kayak adventure lasted less than ½ an hour and wasn’t really that much in the way of exploration or exercise.
Still, on a sunny day, you can get absolutely knockout beach and water views and it’s nice to be out on the open water.
As I mentioned in my other tips, if you have the time, take all the different island hopping tours. You will not regret it! And I strongly recommend booking with owner Rey Arante of Seaslug's Beach Bar & Resto. The cost of tours will actually be a lot cheaper if you're bigger than our group (we were 4). Having 8 in the group should cut down the cost in half.
Great service and enjoyment is guaranteed! Just look for Rey :)
Seaslug's Beach Bar Bacuit Island Tour
Rey & Grace Arante
Since we were quite happy with the service in our Tour C, we went with Sea Slugs again for this tour. Again, Rey accompanied us on the trip. It was actually raining when we set off but since there's not much wind, we were told that it was ok to still proceed. We're sure glad we did that because we did enjoy the trip :)
The tour package is for P3400 with a sumptous lunch of grilled squid, green mango salad, steamed veggies, grilled porkchop and ripe mangoes and bananas. We had our lunch in one of the huts (P120) in the Cudugnon cave area. The place is quite nice and is still being developed. There even sell hot coffee and cold drinks! They even have a volleyball area.
For Tour C, we decided to try the tours being offered by Sea Slugs. The owner, Rey Arante, promised to be the one to guide us in the tour. He promised that he will take very good care of us. Wow, was he true to his word! The service was quite excellent and over and above what we expected.
For our first stop, we went snorkeling in one of the islands (can't remember which). Rey, Nolan and Teng assisted us in our snorkeling escapade. So all of us had someone to hold on to despite the scary depth of the sea. The snorkeling area was quite deep and since we can't swim, it gets a bit scary. But our guides took away our fear so we were able to snorkel to our hearts' content.
But our favorite part is our Secret Beach stop. Wow, it was a really great place to find. I guess it's no longer secret since we found it :) We were also lucky that nobody was around when we went there.
We had our lunch in another island and wow, were we impressed by Rey and his crew. They brought tables and chairs and table cloth. The set up was beneath one of the trees higher up on the beach. Food was yummy since we got our request too. We had barbeque chicken, grilled fish, grilled eggplant salad and ripe mangoes!
For our cliff climbing tour, we arranged with Romy who's one of the tour guides. The fee is just P500 for all of us.
It was a scary and exhilirating climb. But you need to bring water (coz you'll need it!) and spray on plenty of mosquito repellant. You will also need to have gloves because the stones are quite sharp and it will be easy to cut yourself. Climbing shoes or mojos are also necessary.
Unfortunately, we did not complete the climb. We were only got halfway. That's because we did the climb on our last day and we run out of time. We were told that the longest is 2 hours both ways but since there's 4 of us and we were not 'fast climbers', it took us a wee bit longer. Since we have a plane to catch in 2 hours, we couldn't go on anymore. It was a pity because we were enjoying the climb and we're getting our 2nd wind...I guess there's always a next time :)
This was the activity that made me sweat buckets! It sure is different from climbing mountains :)
This will bring you to the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Zimisu beach, Hidden Lagoon and the 7 Commando Beach. If you are not a good swimmer, I suggest you do the kayak tour in the Small Lagoon. It's a better way to appreciate the beauty of the place. And the only way you can take pictures inside the lagoon.
For Tour A, we booked with Arts Cafe at P600 per pax. A couple joined us also in the tour. The tour includes lunch and coffee. Unfortunately, the only food they provide for lunch is grilled fish and salad (cabbage salad with no dressing) and bananas. It's not a filling one and leaves much to be desired.
Also, there aren't enough people to assist us during snorkeling in the small lagoon. The one who assisted us didn't even have a snorkel or fins so he couldn't keep up or assist us. We were generally left to fend for ourselves.
But despite that, the lagoons are quite magnificent!
You can join any of the ~100 operators that offer the standard tours, A, B or C. These are all standardized tours and vary between 500~600PHP depending on the operator and if lunch is included.
But if you wish to spend a little more time anywhere specific or explore with your own freedom, you can hire a private banca. The boat does not care how many people are in the group. You will pay the whole fare and divide by how many people there are.
You can negotiate down to about 3000PHP for a full day. Prices can drop down to 1800PHP if the day is not complete or the stops are limited.
If you simply want a drop off and pick up on some remote beach, cost will be about 500PHP per person.
There's over 45 beaches around El Nido. Surely, you can't go wrong with any island hopping tours. For P600-700, you get a whole day of exploring caves that can take you to hidden beaches and lagoons, snorkeling, kayaking, beachcombing, sunbathing, etc... on different islands... lunch is included.
You can book it through your hotel or just walk along the beach and haggle your island hopping tours with independent boat operators. The magic word: haggle!
What I did was... I hung out with a local boat operator and his assistant when they had no tours. We would go for lunch and some beers... my treat!... which didn't cost me much (P400 the most!). We went to small carenderias (small restaurants) where locals eat. For some reason, foods which locals eat taste better than what they serve in fancy restaurants where most foreigners eat.
In return, they would take me along on boat tours when they're called for duty... for free!... well, I had to sit in the back of the boat and throw the anchor for them when stopping on beaches and pull down the ladder and hold tourists' hands when they're getting off the boat.
When I was in El Nido, I was planning to do a lot of island hopping and found a good responsible company called TaoPhilippines expeditions- who does trips and expeditions to the islands in Palawan- el Nido, Coron and around. I was so amazed with their project of visiting villages and remote islands, i changed my travel plans and joined them for 10 days of exploring the islands until reaching Coron. There are about 7 guest and 5 staff onboard a big banka, we roam around the El nido islands and the northern isles on the way to Coron and visited beaches and villages most of the tourist never see, we sleep on the boat, camped and stayed with families who are very friendly and very accommodating. Tao pays the family well for accommodating their guest as to spread out the money to locals. The villages are amazing, we walk around playing with kids, treks to the hills had the local healers for massages and had amazing seafood. I never saw another tourist along the way. It feels like for the first time this places are being explored. I enjoyed the roughing it with the islanders but also felt very well taken care off by Tao crew, I made very good friend with them and promised them that i will spread out the word about their amazing trips.
Visit Taophilippines.com and find out what they do.
El Nido has 2 main islands where the resorts are...Lagen and Miniloc. All activities however originate from Miniloc like scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and spelunking. You can also request for picnics in the different smaller islands in the bay for romantic dinners and private swimming and sun-bathing.
If you are staying in the city beach area, you will see fishermen coming back from fishing every morning around 5 - 6. Most cottage operators will either cook for you are make arrangements to get the fresh catch cooked. Our party bought fresh lobsters one day. Another day they bought Lapu Lapu and had it grilled. Being a vegetarian, I really didn't partake in the feast. It was fun negotiating in the early morning and checking out the fresh catch.
The best places to Snorkel in El Nido are near the islands. Most islands have beautiful white sand beaches and the corals will start anywhere from 20 - 40 feet from the beach and you will start to see small fishes and corals. Most Elnido islands are extremely rich in corals and Marine life, but they are not immediately available close to the shore. It is spread out over a wide area and you need to swim quite a bit to enjoy the best corals and fish. The best corals and bigger fish were always found along the underwater caves around the periphery of the island.
1. Helicopter Island: I rank this as the best snorkeling experience around El Nido. There are a few corals and some beautiful fish about 10 - 20 feet from the shore. The best experience is around the edges of the island. The caves at the edge have really large fishes.
2. Ipil Beach to Seven commando : This is a long swim. You start at Ipil beach and follow the island edge. There are some large underwater caves with very rich corals and some really big Parrot fishes. As you start to swim toward seven commando, you will pass through a vast coral area with a really big table top corals. We saw several colonies of large butterfly fishes, lion fish & several blow fishes here.
3. Paradise island: Most corals and fishes here are right in the middle about 30 - 50 feet from the shore. This is a tricky place to snorkel as the shallow portions turn to really deep sections very quick.
4. Tapuitan beach: This has one of the most beautiful drop off reef structure with a natural drop off to a deeper section and a lot of corals and colorful fish at the reef edge.